The Audi A4 is an improvement over the previous version, but isn't good enough to topple the BMW 3-series
What is it?
Audi's fresh-faced answer to the BMW 3-series and the recently arrived Mercedes C-Class. The new A4 is bigger and better than the model it replaces, and Audi has put increased emphasis on its driving dynamics. Saloon versions arrive first, touching down here in March next year, with Avant estates following in July.
This A4 sticks with the unusual mechanical layout of longitudinal engines and front wheel drive (except the all-paw Quattro versions), but like its A5 coupé sister, the A4 gets a revised front axle layout to improve weight distribution and reduce the front overhang.
Engine choice will be limited at launch to the new 1.8-litre TFSI turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder motor with 158bhp, a slightly developed version of the 3.2-litre FSI V6 petrol motor that saw duty in the last A4, a 2.0-litre 141bhp common-rail four-pot TDI diesel and two V6 diesels. Other motors, including a less powerful version of the 1.8 TFSI, will follow later.
What’s it like?
It enters pretty close to the top of the class on first impressions. Handsome styling makes the A4 a desirable beast; indeed it looks considerably better than the slightly under-detailed A5. Basic versions are a bit under-endowed on the wheel front (the entry-level 16in alloy is lost in those vast arches), but 17s are standard with the SE trim that will make up the bulk of UK sales, with 18s or 19s optional.
On the road Audi's changed priorities are clear. The new A4 drives with far more precision than its predecessor, the front-end gripping keenly and with an impressive resistance to understeer. The flipside is distinctly chunky ride quality, especially on the bigger wheels and firmer suspension that comes with S-Line trim. Road noise is on the high side, too - and cruising at typical British motorway speeds produces a surprising amount of wind noise from the top of the windscreen and windows.
The 3.2-litre V6 is the most powerful engine this side of the forthcoming S4, and it delivers strong performance and accompanies this with a nice meaty exhaust note. The six-speed manual gearbox doesn't like to be rushed, though: most buyers will opt for the optional six-speed 'auto or wait until the forthcoming twin-clutch DSG.
Fortunately, the well-finished interior is an excellent place in which to spend time; it’s comfortable, great-quality and is filled with classy switchgear, most of which is shared with the A5. Rear seat space is generous and the boot is the largest in the segment.
Should I buy one?
Handsome, well-equipped and competitively priced against rivals, on first impressions the new A4 seems to be the most convincing reason yet not to make the default choice of buying a BMW 3-series.
We’ll wait to drive the biggest-selling TDI model on smaller wheels, in the UK, before writing that it’s a cast iron reason not to replace your current ‘E46’ BMW 3-series with a new, ‘E90’ version. For now, though, suffice it to say that it’s a good enough reason to make you stop and think.